In EO’s 30-year history, members have led the formation of 196 chapters. With 14,000-plus members, only a few hundred have taken on the significant challenge of forming a new chapter. We asked EO Richmond President Michael Mahoney what it takes to launch a new chapter. And while every chapter and every launch is unique, entrepreneurs around the world will certainly relate to his journey of building something from nothing.
Launching an EO chapter is exactly like launching a start-up company. You have to go into it with the mindset that you are launching a start-up nonprofit as a volunteer. That means you are doing everything from the very beginning, using templates and guides from EO.
As an enthusiastic EO DC member since 2003, I missed the camaraderie, connections and learning events with my EO family after moving to Virginia. So, I decided to start a new EO chapter—starting from scratch, with no established connections in my new city.
It was an intense journey filled with cold-calling potential new members, leveraging resources, producing events that appeal to both strategic alliance partners (SAPs) and potential members, and implementing the strategies and structure for a successful organization.
Every EO chapter launch is unique, but there are underlying struggles we all have in common. Here are nine strategies I learned that may prove helpful if you’re considering starting an EO chapter.
1. Hire a strong chapter manager.
If your chapter can afford one—even part-time—a strong chapter manager can make or break your chapter. This person must possess specific skills and, in an ideal scenario, is a full-time employee. In addition to strong verbal and written communication, attention to detail, organizational and follow-through skills, your chapter manager must be assertive and have a thick skin to handle criticism and direct communication and to push back when needed. They’ll be dealing with EO members, and we all know entrepreneurs can be both demanding and determined.
While interviewing for our chapter manager, I leveraged techniques from previous EO learning events that provided insights for interviewing and hiring the right person for this critical seat, including:
• Before our phone interview, I sent a long, detailed email to candidates asking them to call me and role-play. They were to pretend they already had the job and were inviting me to attend an EO event. During the call, I pushed back on why I was too busy to attend. It was on them to research EO and provide logical, persuasive reasons why I should attend. This helped me discover: Could they do the research? How good were their pitch skills? Did they seem stressed? Robotic? Natural?
• I casually asked candidates to bring two copies of their resume, unfolded in manila envelopes, and two No. 2 pencils. This showed whether they would do what they were asked, and do it exactly.
• I pushed with a few intentionally contentious comments about obvious resume holes—e.g., I asked directly about not finishing a four-year college degree. I wanted to see how they’d handle it in terms of body language and attitude. Could they shrug it off and stay positive and confident in their reply?
• I requested—and analyzed—writing samples.
2. Leverage EO mentors and Chapter Launch experts in the EO leadership.
They brought key experiences, connections, guidance and know-how but, more importantly, they provided good judgment and moral support. Working with them was one of the significant benefits of being in EO. I developed meaningful, trusting relationships, while also avoiding many mistakes, thanks to experience sharing from those who have “been there, done that.”
3. Score SAPs, both big and small.
You can’t run a startup without funds. Strategic alliance partners (SAPs) can provide your chapter with invaluable contributions to make more events and programs possible. You do not need to wait until you have lots of members to score SAPs. Just the opposite: We landed the No. 1 law firm in town with just seven chapter members. Their cash helped significantly, and their high-end facilities provide status and image. But don’t neglect small SAPs, who can help you recruit potential members, provide cash or in-kind contributions, lend credibility and offer free event space.
“Starting EO Richmond was a trial by fire—both incredibly difficult and incredibly rewarding!” – Michael Mahoney, EO Richmond President
4. Create a spectacular learning calendar.
Leverage EO Global events, regional events, and nearby chapter events if you’re in the fortunate position of having another chapter nearby. Schedule quality—but free—speakers for local events, including members from other chapters, local luminaries, or others trying to break into the speakers’ circuit. Paid speakers visiting a nearby chapter will often add your chapter to their trip for a nominal cost, or sometimes just travel expenses.
5. Make events multi-purpose.
A learning event should also be a recruiting event and a spousal integration event, and can be followed by a social event. Squeeze value from every gathering.
6. Run Test Drives every six weeks.
Yes, that’s aggressive, but you have to be relentless. Make the Test Drive location a draw in itself. For example, Top Golf or a local micro-brewery. Invite prospects’ spouses to attend. Again, transform the event into a multi-purpose event, so it’s new member integration, spousal integration, member recruiting, SAP recruiting and a social event.
7. Identify your closer.
I can’t overstate the importance of finding that specific someone in your membership who can close new members and SAPs. It’s a skill. It’s rare. It’s essential. If necessary, leverage a regional leader who will work these contacts by phone for you.
8. Leverage nearby chapters for big, resource-intensive events such as chapter retreats or Accelerator program.
Programs like these require significant time and money, but are occasional and definitely worth the travel. We are fortunate to have two thriving chapters within a two-hour drive of our city—EO DC and EO Southeast Virginia—which empowered us to offer big chapter benefits at little or no expense on our end.
9. Momentum breeds momentum.
You either grow or die. Don’t take your eyes off the prize: Chapter members and prospects feed off the energy of growth. When new members are coming in, there’s excitement, fresh experiences, new connections, and people feel like they’re part of something vibrant. Recruit continually to keep the excitement and enthusiasm revving.
While some EO chapters form as spin-offs of existing chapters, others—such as EO Richmond—start completely from scratch, with a devoted champion cold-recruiting every single new member until they attract 16 qualifying members, the threshold for chapter status.
It’s a daunting challenge, one that EO Richmond president Michael Mahoney started in mid-2017 and mastered in about 20 months, with the help and guidance of EO’s Chapter Launch team and knowledgeable regional resources. The new chapter officially launched in February 2019 and is in integration and growth mode. Michael is also the founder and executive director of Ideal Body Wellness, which provides the tools and guidance necessary for people to achieve and maintain their ideal body weight.